NASCAR: Chase Elliott on the verge of complicating the playoffs

Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, Team Penske, Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR playoffs (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Chase Elliott getting his No. 9 team into the round of 8 of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs could make things quite complicated.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott entered this year’s NASCAR Cup Series playoffs as one of 17 drivers still fighting for a championship. But unlike the other 16, Elliott isn’t fighting to become a two-time champion himself; he is fighting to deliver the owner championship to Rick Hendrick and the No. 9 team for the second time in the last four seasons.

Elliott missed the playoffs for the first time in his eight-year career this year, having failed to win any of the 19 regular season races in which he competed.

He missed seven races, six due to injury and one due to suspension, and could not get into the playoffs on points, but his replacement drivers in those seven events still scored points for the No. 9 team, ultimately helping the team secure the 16th and final spot in the owner playoffs.

The No. 9 team beat out the No. 23 23XI Racing team of Bubba Wallace for that spot, even though Wallace himself took the 16th and final playoff spot in the driver playoffs.

Following the round of 16, the four drivers who were eliminated from playoff contention were also the drivers whose teams were eliminated, as both Elliott’s No. 9 team and Wallace himself advanced to the round of 12.

But that might not be the case following the round of 8, which could complicate the remainder of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

With only this coming Sunday afternoon’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval left on the round of 12 schedule, Elliott has the No. 9 team sitting in a fourth place tie in the owner playoff picture, 19 points above the round of 8 cut line. But in the driver playoff picture, Wallace sits in 10th, nine points below the cut line.

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Should Elliott get his No. 9 team to the round of 8 and Wallace fail to qualify for the round of 8 himself, one of the drivers who advances to the round of 8 will ultimately do so despite their team being eliminated.

This is the case because of the fact that the cut line is in two different positions, since the driver playoffs and owner playoffs don’t consist of the same 16 driver/car combinations.

With Elliott’s No. 9 team sitting in a fourth place tie, the No. 6 RFK Racing team of Brad Keselowski sits below the owner cut line in ninth. But with Keselowski himself above Wallace in the standings — and Elliott not in the driver playoff picture — Keselowski sits above the driver cut line in eighth.

So yes, it would be bizarre if Elliott, who can finish no higher than 17th place in the driver standings, ultimately ends up leading his No. 9 team to an owner championship.

But we could also potentially end up seeing a totally unrelated driver, whether that be Keselowski or somebody else, win a championship even after his team is eliminated in the round of 12.

Just look at what happened last year after Kurt Busch withdrew from the playoffs, allowing Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney to get in. Despite Busch’s withdrawal, his No. 45 23XI Racing team retained its spot in the owner playoffs due to its regular season win, leaving Blaney’s No. 12 team on the outside looking in.

The No. 45 team made it to the round of 12 with Wallace behind the wheel, even though Wallace wasn’t a playoff driver. The knock-on effects of this change ended up affecting Blaney, Elliott, and Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson.

Blaney made it to the round of 8 despite his team not being a playoff team, Larson was eliminated in the round of 12 despite his team advancing to the Championship 4, and Elliott made it to the Championship 4 despite his team being eliminated in the round of 8.

And it all happened because the cut lines were in two different spots, thanks to 17 drivers, not just 16, having at least one championship to drive for.

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Will we see a similar situation unfold in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs? The Bank of America Roval 400 is set to be broadcast live on NBC from the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval this Sunday, October 8 beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET. Elliott is a two-time winner of this race, having won it after overcoming mid-race adversity in both 2019 and 2020. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!